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ďIím not sure what I expected Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be like but I can tell you I have a new hero. I watched this man get mobbed by adoring soldiers, contractors and foreign nationals, over and over and over again for three days, all over the country. He shook thousands of hands, posed for many hundreds of pictures, chatted about homes and families. Not once did he complain about getting hugged, pawed over, arms thrown over his shoulders. He greeted every soldier/marine/sailor/airman within shouting distance. In the twenty-some stops/events we did he didnít quit a location until every single person had been shaken, photoed or clapped on the back. It was remarkable.

He is loved over here and it is clear to me that he loves the fighting man and woman right back. You canít fake what I saw for three days. He knows what everyone here knows: this war is won. It is just a matter of wrapping it up, putting a bow on it and keeping things moving forward until the Iraqi government tells us it is time to go. The only thing that can stop this from being the greatest success of freedom since the end of the cold war is if people at home cave-in to the caviling naysayerís and we leave too soon. (You read the papers so you know he also announced troop reductions effective ASAP Ė the Iraqi and International media had several huge media events and THAT was hard to control; the fledgling free Iraqi media have learned from the American free press some of the worst habits of crowding, obnoxious and aggressive posturing, and frankly inane and silly questions).

The schedule took us into the International Zone downtown and at the last minute Rumsfeld decided to RIDE back to our hotel rather than helicopter lift. Although I and my team did not go with him (we had to escort the rest of his staff and media back) he rode in an armored Humvee convoy down the notorious Route Irish in the dead of night. This was quite a statement on his part and a real spit in the eye at the anti-Iraqi forces. If the US Secretary of Defense can ride safely down what six months ago was the most deadly stretch of road in the world then progress is being made.

Saturday we wound up in Mosul in the north where he served Christmas Eve dinner of steak, lobster tails (I snarffed down two standing in a corner) and crab legs to troops. He and his 40-person travel squad then flew out on a C-17 super cargo plane (truly incredible; more some other day) for the USA and we were left to find our way back home. The only available flight took us three hours south, all the way to Kuwait, and then back north two hours to Baghdad. In bed around 0300 this morning and up again after a restive four hours. Today has been laundry, an after-action-review of the Rumsfeld mission (we always review our work for improvement and sustainment items), and UNWRAPPING presents, which I think is where I began?

In the next few minutes I am going to eat some smoked oysters and sardines, an old Aeschliman family Christmas and holiday treat (I donít know why, ask Pop). Then we will review todayís missions and we have four of them (holidays are MORE busy for us than a regular day). Tomorrow and for the next month we have many military, government and foreign leaders pouring in. The days and weeks just rip by and that is good because as Robyn and I have already shared it is pretty easy to be separated if you are busy and donít think about it but itís pretty terrible when your mind wanders and you get to feeling sorry for yourself. Christmas I think will be the worst . . .

So, a bit homesick but not terribly down because of all of you! This week cards from Aunt Janie and Uncle Bob, Helen and Chuck Worthington, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Nate, old friend Juanita Kendall of Grantville, and more notes and clippings from Pop x 2. Christmas gift certificates from Greg Nelson, and the gang at Commerce Bank & Trust: Dennis Hitt, Mike Lott, Adina Eaton, Alicia Rothe, Shawn Tipping and Nancy Goodall! And just arrived today: a Christmas box from sister Karen Orr (full of TOYS!), Mark Harris (a book and coffee), and First Baptist Church gang. Thanks everyone!

Finally, thanks to everyone for your response to my request for notes and packages to soldiers. You are great!

American by birth. Soldier by choice. Volunteer by God!